Mobile-First Indexing: What Does it Mean for My Business?

In November of 2016, Google made us aware of an impending shift to mobile-first indexing.

They said, “To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”

This is big news, and it’s a chance for those companies that have prioritized the mobile experience to claim a reward in the form of higher rankings when the shift happens.

Google knows a thing or two about search. The number of searches per day stands at more than 6.5 billion, and 77% of that market share belongs to Google. According to Google’s data, more than half of searches take place on a mobile device.

So, is your website in trouble? We’ll answer a few looming questions.

Why is mobile-first indexing important?

It’s estimated that in the month of July alone (from 2016), Google handled 34 billion searches total, 15.2 billion on desktop and 18.7 billion on mobile.

Google wants the user experience on mobile to be the best it can be. It makes sense that Google would look at mobile experience when ranking web pages and apps. If most searches are taking place on a mobile device, then that is where they will focus.

What does mobile-first mean?

Basically, what’s happening now is that Google has ranked your mobile site based on signals from your desktop site. With this update, that will switch. According to Barry Schwartz, who runs a popular advanced search blog, Search Engine Roundtable, “Google will rank your mobile and desktop sites based on signals they get from crawling your site from a mobile view.”

Simply put, the pages you see will be a result of a crawl through a mobile site. The results of the mobile crawl will be shown to you whether you are searching on a mobile or desktop device.

What if my business doesn’t have a mobile website?

If you don’t have a mobile site, should you be worried? Yes and no. With this shift, Google is saying that its algorithms will PRIMARILY look at the content of your mobile site when indexing and returning pages in the SERPs. If you do not have a mobile site, it will still crawl your desktop site just fine.

However, think twice before ignoring the trend to mobile. If more than half of searches happen on a mobile device, and your site looks bad on a mobile device, then you do need to be worried. A negative user experience will affect conversions and bounce rates, which can affect rankings.

In fact, Google says 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% visit a competitor’s site instead. Yikes!

I have a mobile site, but it has less content than my desktop version. Should I add content to my mobile site?

Yes. Make sure that your mobile site has just as much information as your desktop. Granted, the information might need to be shifted around to give a good user experience.

This is one reason why the responsive approach to website design is so popular. When the website is built, the content is the same whether the site is viewed on a mobile device or a desktop (or anything in between).

Will this shift change rankings?

Both Gary Illyes and Paul Haahr from Google said probably not immediately. The thought is that most sites that care enough to rank well now will not lose ground when the shift happens.

Local businesses are potentially the most at-risk. With travelers and in-town adventure seekers looking for local restaurants and attractions on their mobile devices, these particular businesses better step up their mobile game or risk losing business.

In conclusion, mobile will continue to drive search data, and businesses need to stay up-to-date on what it means for them. Although it is still in testing, the shift will happen as Google gains confidence in the index, most likely in 2018, according to Gary Illyes. If your web developer is not open to building a mobile or responsive website, consider hiring someone who will. Although it may not directly affect rankings, it will affect your user experience and conversions.

Are you ready for the mobile-first index shift? Reach out to discuss how a mobile or responsive site can help you stay on top.

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